The Beginner’s Guide to App.net

By on

Got an App.net account, or want to know what App.net is? Have no fear, we have created a “Beginner’s Guide” on App.net and explore the growing community and app ecosystem of App.net, and explain some of the differences between this and Twitter.

Of course, this isn’t the complete guide as App.net does change (especially given it is in alpha) – so if you have any additions to this list, feel free to add them in the comments.

What is App.net?

App.net is pretty much seen as the paid equivalent of Twitter. And people do question why pay $36 a year for something that is already out there for free. Basically, App.Net is an entire platform that has been designed to be user-orientated and, most importantly, developer-orientated.

I’ve previously have talked about its motivations – it is essentially a service that puts the user first. Not the advertisers. In a video announcing the project – which has since been taken down because it already met its goals and has a working alpha build of the site – it’s founder Dalton Caldwell reiterated this message: “Our product is what we sell, not our users.”

It has come in at arguably the right time. Some developers are pretty angry with Twitter as it slowly has restricted its API and has created competing services, to the annoyance to many. Of course, users do have the choice, for example, to choose their own image upload service or Twitter client. But most people are likely to use Twitter-branded services, as opposed to others.

In terms of pricing – it is $5/month, or $36/year. However, if you want to access the API and tinker away with it, then you’ll have to pay $100/year.

The Basics

If you have used Twitter, then you know the basic layout. You have a text box to send in your messages, and below that is your ‘stream’ – where you can see all the updates of those who you follow. On the top of the page is the main navigation – and you can see your stream, your mentions and the ‘global’ feed (where you see everyone’s posts).

The character limit for messages, however, for App.net is 256 as opposed to 140 on Twitter. Why? Well, according to the FAQs, Dalton wanted something “between 200 and 300 characters” (and 256 is a power of 2).

Like Twitter and Facebook, you can ‘repost’ a post (that’s what they call your messages on App.net), and favourite them (that’s the star). They are pretty self explanatory – you can see the icons on the right-hand side of every post. And like Twitter, you can add hashtags to your posts.

Settings

In order to change your settings, click on your avatar then move down to click on the option ‘My Settings’. Here – you will be able to change your display name, password, emails and notification preferences. It is also the place where you can ‘export’ your data – as in, download all your posts to some location.

You can change your username at any time, but like Facebook, you can only do this once. So, if you’re creating an account on App.net – choose your username carefully. The popular option is to simply register your Twitter username – but that is assuming that you plan not to keep changing your username often.

Unlike Twitter – because this is done through third-party apps – you can also ‘mute’ users so you don’t have to see them in your feed, or even in the ‘global’ feed. It is pretty simple to do: hover on the post, and click on “Mute user” once it appears. To unmute, go back to your settings, under “App.net settings”, go to “Muted Users”, then click on the X button that appears when you hover on the user.

But the biggest thing is that you don’t have privacy controls for your account. You do not have a way to simply lock your account and allow a select number of users see what you post, like Twitter. That basically means – think before you say anything. There are also no private messages – so if you need to send something that you don’t want it to be made public, do it via email or via Twitter.

The Conventions

Like Twitter back in the day, users started having conventions for messages. For example: OH means Overheard, RT means retweet (before Twitter had native retweeting), and HT for “heard through” (meaning that you got this from another user).

App.net has also these little conventions. Messages on App.net are to be called ‘posts'; while reposting are to be prepended with “RP”, “RS” (restream) or using two greater-thans signs “>>”. To refer to usernames outside of App.net, it is suggested that you use X@username – where X is replaced with a letter like F for Facebook, T for Twitter, G for Google+, I for Identi.ca and L for LinkedIn. So, if you want to reference my Twitter account in a post on App.net, then you should use T@terencehuynh.

However, many of the Twitter conventions – like .@username in order to make it public, or HT, can also be used. Though, you should definitely check the FAQs if there are any new additions to the list.

Install an app

After using the web interface for a bit, it’s now to move onto getting a mobile app so you can keep posting to App.net without going to your web browser.

If you’re an iOS user, then you’re in luck. There are plenty of apps for App.net. if you are a fan of Tweetbot, then you should check out their sister client for App.net called Netbot. It has the same interface as Tweetbot, and you can even track a conversation and cross post the same message to Twitter. It costs $4.99 – in comparison, Tweetbot is $2.99.

Other iOS apps include Felix ($4.99) and Adian ($4.99), Synd ($0.99) and Rivr (free). One more , called Raptor, is ‘coming soon’ but looking at the screenshots, it does look good.

If you are an Android user, the best right now is the Australian-made Hooha app. The developer does warn users that it is an “alpha build” and it is not the complete app (so pretty much expect updates periodically). It is free and it is currently what I use.

Another Android one that has caught my attention is Robin, and it also looks really good – again, this is based on the screenshots. It is currently in limited beta.

For Windows Phone, the only one sadly is DotDot. It does cost you $1.49, but it’s a good start. Another app, Gnirous, is coming soon to the Marketplace. And if you’re a fan of WebOS or BlackBerry, you’re out of luck – no developers have built apps for you.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper guide without looking at the desktop apps. Pretty much, a lot of them are only for the Mac. And out of all the Mac clients, most of them support Lion or above. Some of the highlights include Wedge, Mention and Appetizer. For Windows, many of them are Windows 8 apps – and two are currently available: Ferret (requires registration, in beta) and MetroAppNet. And for Linux, there is Aladn – an open source GTK+ 3.x client.

The other things…

The number of apps for App.net has rapidly grown – especially given that it has been around three months since the API was released to developers. There is an already a search tool, a private messaging service and even push notifications for replies and mentions. Heck, there is even a way to play chess on App.net.

A user named @po has put up a starter guide on the many apps already there, so do check it out. You should also check out the directory on the wiki, especially in the “In Progress” section. Third-party developers are working on extensions to display media with your posts on App.net, annotate and share webpages, and a recommendation service.

But what about Twitter?

If you’re looking for cross-posting – the previous method was simply set up an IFTTT account and create a ‘recipe’ to post anything from Twitter to App.net. This is no longer the case because after Twitter’s API changes, IFTTT was forced to remove its Twitter triggers (what launches the recipes). There is, however, a service called Buffer that lets you post to multiple accounts – including Twitter, Facebook, App.net and LinkedIn – and has apps already for Android and iOS. So if you want to manage multiple profiles, this tool might be helpful.

Another alternative is to do the reverse – use App.net as your main client and post to Twitter those statuses. This service by @phuu will post any new updates from App.net to your Twitter profile, and also has a way to let you to control what gets posted to Twitter – by the hashtag #nt (that will not post that message to Twitter). It will also shorten the post and append a link to the message if it is beyond 140 characters.

Now, who to follow?

Well, first off – you could always follow me (@terencehuynh), but I’m not a heavy user on the site. And of course, you should follow Dalton Caldwell and the official announcements account for App.net.

Other people on App.net include Stephen Fry, technology commentators Stilgherrian and Trevor Long, Bjango developer Marc Edwards and the Mars Rover Curiosity. Telstra and Breaking News are also on the site, but Telstra’s account is “not active just yet”.

There are also tools to find your Twitter friends on App.net, such as this one made by @phuu and another called Friendfind by @ptwtts. However, both assume that the App.net username is the same as their one on Twitter – a tad problematic since you can encounter usernames on App.net that do not belong to their Twitter counterpart. For example: @engadget on Twitter is not @engadget on App.net. So, do be wary of those you follow.

Join the Conversation